JoCo on the Go Podcast: Saluting our veterans
On JoCo on the Go, episode #147, we help you get ready for Veterans Day. You will get the details on Johnson County’s Veterans Day Observance…back in person for the first time since 2019. You’ll get to hear three Johnson County veterans share their military experiences, as well as learn about Johnson County’s innovative Veterans Treatment Court. Please join us as we thank not only these three veterans, but all of those who have served our country.
Look for JoCo on the Go where you regularly listen to podcasts.
|03:26||Veterans Day Observance overview|
|04:45||Featured speaker at the event|
|09:25||Veterans Treatment Court|
|12:37||Veterans Day Observance details|
|16:19||What Veterans Day means to veterans|
Jody Hanson 0:00
Veterans Day is coming up soon on November 11. And it's the perfect time to thank those who have served to protect our country's freedom. On this episode, hear from three Johnson County veterans and get all the details you need about the county's Veterans Day event, back in person.
Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.
Jody Hanson 0:30
Thanks so much for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host, Jody Hanson, a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County Government. I am so honored to have three veterans with me today. I have to start, first of all by just thanking you all for your service. And thank you for being here today. So nice to see all of you. What I'm going to do now is to introduce you one by one. And so when I say your name, please just share kind of a brief overview of your service. So why don't we start with retired Kansas Army National Major General Gene Krase, who is a Kansas native and now lives in Lenexa. So please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Gene Krase 1:11
I was fortunate in my assignment with regard to...I was actually a full-time guardsmen and a traditional guardsman. So I had dual assignments many times. So I was fortunate to spend most of my career in command. So I was absolutely dealing with soldiers almost my whole life with regard to trying to make things better for them so that they can succeed in the things they wanted to do. So I commanded all the way from a squad leader to a division commander.
Jody Hanson 1:38
Wow, that sounds pretty impressive. And sounds like you helped a lot of people. Next, we have Rhianna Ray with us. So I'd like to introduce her, and Rhianna, tell us a little bit about you and your military service.
Rhianna Ray 1:55
I did eight and a half years active-duty United States Army. I was a 92 Foxtrot, was the fuel supply specialist and a heavy equipment operator. And I was medically retired in 2015.
Jody Hanson 2:10
Alright, well thank you so much for your service. And finally, I'd like to introduce Gerald Hay, whom I have the pleasure to work with every day. He works here at the county with us in the Public Information Office. So Gerald, tell us a little bit about your military career.
Gerald Hay 2:25
I'm a Marine veteran, got out of service as a sergeant. I was in Vietnam, Dong Ha Khe Sanh from 1966-68. Back-to-back combat tours, because at the time basically they only would guarantee six months and then you'd go back. So I decided to get it all in two years of service. Basically, I was in the infantry, and we had a lot of unfriendly people up in that area.
Jody Hanson 2:59
Well, Gerald, we are so lucky to have you on our team and in your role. And so thank you all for being here again. And again, thank you for your service. Gerald, I'm gonna start with you. You know, several county staff work together every year to plan Johnson County's Veterans Day event. But you really are the heart and soul of the event. And I'd love to hear from you a bit about how long the county has done a Veteran's Day Observance and how it began.
Gerald Hay 3:26
Okay, well, we started back in my reporting days in 1987. And it started on the Courthouse steps, the south Courthouse steps of the old Courthouse, and we were there for about 10 years. And then we got moved to the Olathe Armory for about 10 years. And for the last 15 years or so, we basically rotated in six cities at their veterans parks and facilities. So and this would be our 36th year. But the last two years we've been doing it virtual and by Zoom, I mean videos and Zoom. So this is the first actual in person celebration in three years. So it's glad to be back at a gathering. I do miss that.
Jody Hanson 4:21
I agree. And I'm sure a lot of other people do too. It's going to be nice to get together back in person again. So, Gerald, we're going to come back to you in a little bit to give us more details about this year's observance. But General Krase, I'd like to hear from you a little bit more. You're going to be the featured speaker at our event this year. So we're very excited about that and grateful. I was hoping you could go into a little more detail and tell us more about your military career.
Gene Krase 4:45
Okay. I started as a heavy weapons infantryman, mortars and recoilless rifles back in the day, and I stayed infantry branch and I served all from platoon leader to company commander a couple of times, operations officer and a battalion commander. Then I was a brigade operations officer, brigade commander, then my full-time assignments I served as the chief staff for a couple of general officers with all the standard education things that officers do. Infantry advanced and commander general staff college up here at Leavenworth and Army War College and those kinds of things. And we touched a little bit on Vietnam, I mentioned that I was a rifle platoon leader and air assault battalion in Mekong Delta. And so you can see from part of my decorations there that we were involved in some heavy combat. So there was units and basically what we do is we would, in the day, they would call it jitterbugging, we would air assault a platoon at a time, different pockets all over the Mekong Delta. And then wherever we made contact them, they would lift other units in, and then establish a battle, and some turned into brigade size. We had one battle, they were five battalions involved. So with artillery and all of that. So one of the things that my soldiers appreciated, being a former waterman, I could call fire. I didn't have to have a foreign observer, I knew that how to do that. So I trained my radio operator to suppose to the artillery system and I could talk to close air and artillery. And so anyway, that was the extent of it, and ended up with my career with, of course, initially, we were also focused on the Soviet Union. And we had a lot of exercises in Europe, those kinds of things. And then, eventually, that we, as NATO broke up, or I'm sorry, the Warsaw Pact broke up, they had ambitions to help train other armies, including the Polish Army. And those, initially, were actually trained with to help the Ukrainians a little bit and the Georgians, and all kinds of security missions in Europe, we were European-oriented, unit 35th Division. Still are.
Jody Hanson 6:54
So out of everything you've been through and experienced, does anything stand out to you? Is there a certain story or a certain memory that stands out to you is sort of a highlight of your of your service?
Gene Krase 7:10
Well, other than combat stories. One of the things I was most proud of that when they had external evaluators come in and evaluate when I was an infantry battalion commander. And the writeup from them that they talked about that of all the infantry battalions, they evaluated this is the very best they had observed. And of course, it was all the great noncommissioned officers in the unit. Good officers, but absolutely Command Sergeant Major and all the first sergeants were just excellent. So very, very proud of that.
Jody Hanson 7:46
Great, thank you. Thank you so much. Rhianna, let's turn to you with sort of a similar question. Can you talk a little bit more about your time in the army and a highlight of your service?
Rhianna Ray 7:57
I only had one deployment, that was to Iraq in 2009-2010. I do not wear the accolades that he does. But I think the biggest, the most important part of my Army career was when I was stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington. That's who I deployed with the Second Infantry Division. The leaders that I had, the NCOs, leaders all all up the chain, were just great and amazing. And they molded me into the soldier that I was. They molded me in for deployment, and into the person that I am today. And I hold them very close to my heart. And I still am very close with a lot of them. So that's my most meaningful is all of them.
Jody Hanson 8:50
Yeah, I was going to ask that if you kept in touch with people.
Rhianna Ray 8:53
Oh yeah. Oh yeah, we have now that Facebook is a thing, it started back then. So we get to stay in contact through, like, our different company and battalion brigade, on Facebook and stuff like that.
Jody Hanson 9:08
Oh I think that's great. Now Rhianna, I understand that you graduated from the Johnson County Veteran's Treatment Court just this past August. So congratulations for that.
Rhianna Ray 9:19
Jody Hanson 9:20
Now, for those who might not know what that program is, can you tell us about it?
Rhianna Ray 9:24
So it's a treatment court specifically for veterans who have a substance abuse or mental health disorder, that, to say the least, have come in contact with the law in some way, shape or form. To me, I would say that it's a second chance to really turn your life around. And in my case, upon completion of the course, I mean, it's very rigorous. It's very demanding, you know, they hold you accountable for everything. And I mean, it's just a huge healing journey. So when I finished, the charges that I had gotten were dismissed. And now with the new law in Kansas with the...you can get it expunged immediately. There is nothing on my record anymore. My slate was wiped clean, and I got to start over. My amazing team, the Veterans Treatment Court team that I had, they just...I mean, that program saved my life. If it hadn't been for that, there would have been no way that I could have had a job. I had struggled through the beginning of veteran's treatment court of trying to get a job. And because of the record, I was unsuccessful. And so I put in a lot of work. I had my team behind me, pushing me, you know, always, and it's just, it's an amazing program. You know, they're trying to get more and more of them across the United States. And it's just, it's amazing, to say the least. It gave me back my life.
Jody Hanson 11:10
Oh, that's very admirable. I'm so glad that you had that experience and had such a good success with it. I think it's, I've heard it, there's about 57 veterans, including yourself in class that have gone through it?
Rhianna Ray 11:23
Jody Hanson 11:23
Wonderful. And you graduated with three others right?
Rhianna Ray 11:25
Yep, three others.
Jody Hanson 11:27
That's, that's great. And it started back in 2016. And I believe the next graduation is coming up in December. So we'll be watching for that. But anything else you'd like to share about that program?
Rhianna Ray 11:41
I mean, I can't say enough for the people that were behind me through my whole journey. It's not easy. But if you're ready to get your life back on track and you want to be different, it made me the person, my true self again. It brought me to have a lot of peace in my life again. And it's just, it's an amazing opportunity.
Jody Hanson 12:10
Well good, thank you. And thank you for being willing to share that story and share that experience. Hopefully others will hear it and think that maybe it's something that they can also participate in.
Rhianna Ray 12:21
I hope so.
Jody Hanson 12:23
So Gerald, let's go back to you. And I'd love to hear whatever details you can share with us about this year's Veterans Day Observance, sort of the what we need to know: the where the when, what to expect, that kind of thing?
Gerald Hay 12:37
Well, it's gonna be at the Kansas Army National Guard Armory in Lenexa. And that's 18200 West 87th Street, which is due west of the Lenexa City Square, or Center, I should say. And so on the north side of the road. It's sandwiched between the school and the park and rec fields. So it's easy to spot. And we have a lot of participants. Veterans groups are helping us, they're gonna provide a chaplain, they're gonna provide three presenters. And we have two schools and, you know, schools are always important to this event, because always we want to involve students. And the Olathe Northwest band is coming. That's 138 students, so should be able to hear the music. And then the students, they're fifth and sixth grade students from Sunflower Elementary School in Lenexa are joining this too, and that's 45 students. So I think we will be able to hear them singing. And what I do when I organize a Veterans Day, we have traditional music with the National Anthem, God Bless America and the March of the Armed Forces. But also want the students to pick out their own selections. And usually, you know, especially with the choir, I don't know all the songs. You know, it goes from Yankee Doodle Dandy to, you know, Boogie Woogie Boy. So, you know, the students picked out I believe six, maybe five or six songs that they want to perform. Two of them I have never heard, so I'll be listening to them because I know their involvement and they're rehearsing quite hard, and I know they're gonna be doing a great job. We also have the rifle shoot, which is tradition, Echo Taps and Chairman Eilert from the Board of County Commissioners will be navigating through the program as the emcee. So the event itself I estimate will last probably 40-45 minutes.
Jody Hanson 15:03
Thank you, I know you work very hard every year to get it planned and get it organized. So it's a great benefit to the community. And so just a couple of other things that I wanted to mention it. You know, it's back in person, first time since 2019. But we also do livestream it on Facebook and we also show it live on our website for those who can't make it in person, but still want to participate. And so the best way to find that is to go to our website, jocogov.org/jocohonorsvets. But it's free to the public, you don't have to register in advance. And Gerald usually how many people do we get that attend, would you say?
Gerald Hay 15:42
Usually between 250 and 300. And since this is the first event in three years, it might be a little bit more than that. Because I think people who want to honor our veterans will be excited to actually see them and meet them and visit with them.
Jody Hanson 16:02
Great. Thank you for all that detail. Just one last question I had for all of you. And maybe we can start with General Krase. I would just love to hear, you know, what does Veterans Day mean to you? And why do you think it's important that the community recognize Veterans Day?
Gene Krase 16:19
Well, I think in my view, the veterans get some recognition, but their families really don't. And I think that's the piece that when we get the honor the veterans on Veterans Day, it also honors their families for all the things that they've done on behalf of our veterans. And it's just like, my wife, many times I was temporary duty, she was gone. And my joke with her was, if you sell the house and move, give me the new address.
Jody Hanson 16:52
Yeah, that's true. That's something we don't maybe always think about is not only the sacrifice that veterans make, but the sacrifice that their families make. And kind of the the pressure it can put on people. So it's, I guess that's a great point, to think about the families to on Veterans Day. Rhianna, how about you? What does Veterans Day mean to you?
Rhianna Ray 17:13
It's, it means everything to me. Me and my husband are both veterans and, you know, a lot of the times the sacrifices that we make for serving our country are unseen, things like PTSD and veteran suicide and things like that. And I think to take a day to really honor veterans, it's a noble day. You know, we've sacrificed a lot, our families have sacrificed a lot. The transition out of the military is a hard one. And I just, I don't want people to forget why we do the things that we do, why we make the sacrifices that we make to serve our country. And I think Veterans Day is a great day to show just that.
Jody Hanson 18:08
There's some great thoughts there. Gerald, what about you? I know you've got some thoughts on the importance of observing this day, and you've got a lot of passion, you know, obviously. So tell us a little bit about that.
Gerald Hay 18:21
Well, I'm from a military family. My father was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge. And my uncle basically was in the fifth wave of troops at Normandy. And he was wounded in Normandy, but it was a walking wounded. So he stayed and continued fighting. He got the...not the Bronze Star, but the Silver Star. And basically, what I learned later from my uncle is that he liberated Dachau and a couple of concentration camps. And, you know, between those two experiences, you know, it was great to hear the family history of being a veteran. I was raised in Fort Dodge, Kansas, a Kansas soldier's home, because my father could not maintain a job after the service. And back then they allowed veterans and their families to be raised at the Fort. And there's like six, maybe seven families that had kids. We all grew up together. And when we got older, we all went into service at different times. I was probably the crazy one that joined the Marine Corps, but the rest of them joined the Navy and the Air Force. My brother's a Navy guy, so serving in the military and listening to the veterans back at the fort. You know, when I got there, we had World War I vets and Spanish American War vets and just started getting in World War II vets. And now the fort is basically getting in, you know, Desert Storm and younger vets. I mean, it just, it was a great place to understand the importance of the military and take pride in serving your country when you got old enough.
Jody Hanson 20:20
Great to hear that your backstory about your family history and with the military, and then you carrying out that tradition. That's great, Gerald, I didn't know all that. And I've worked with you for several years. So thank you for sharing all that.
Gerald Hay 20:33
Well, like most veterans, a lot of veterans do not talk a lot about their military service. And here's the math: There's 20 million veterans in the United States. There's a little bit over one million active military people, and there's 800-900 reservists. Do the math: That's 22 million people wearing uniforms, protecting our democracy and our Constitution. That represents approximately 6% of our entire population. As the frontline for our freedoms, that's important. And I think it's appropriate that at least one day a year that we recognize your service and your families on Veterans Day.
Jody Hanson 21:32
I agree. And I am so appreciative of you for all your service and General Krase and Rhianna, thank you so much for your service. And to all veterans out there that are listening or watching. Thank you for joining me today. I really appreciate it. And I hope you all have a meaningful Veterans Day. I feel like another podcast could have just been letting the three of you tell stories about your service together and ask probably a lot better questions than I did. But really, thanks to all of you. Thanks to all of you for joining me today. And I wish you in advance a very happy Veterans Day. So again, for those who want more information on our Veterans Day event, you can go to jocogov.org/jocohonorsvets. It's got a lot of information about the event and also that's where you can see it livestreamed. And then if you want to learn more about Veterans Treatment Court, you can go to courts.jocogov.org. So thanks to all for being here today and thanks to those for joining us. Have a great day.
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